SNCO Health Dept. hosts panel on implementing smoke free multi-unit housing

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - More than one of every four house fires that burn in this country are linked to smoking, according to the CDC.

On Wednesday, the Shawnee County Health Department took steps to prevent such tragedies at housing complexes, educating local property managers on the benefits of going smoke-free.

The CDC says nearly a quarter of Americans live in multi-unit housing, and experts suggest smoking in these types of residences not only puts the smoker's health and safety at risk but also their neighbors.

KDHE, the Shawnee County Health Agency, Topeka Fire Department and a local restoration company were part of the panel to discuss the benefits.

“We do see a lot of property damage each year from smoking in multi-family dwelling s -- we also see some loss of life." Fire Marshal Mike Martin said.

The issue has hit home in Topeka. In October, 70 year-old Katherine Bushey died of injuries from fire caused by smoking materials at her Topeka apartment. And in November, a 61-year-old Topeka man was killed, and 10 others displaced, by another apartment fire linked to smoking.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us to get together with the landlords and talk about maybe providing a smoke-free environment and taking away that challenge," Martin explained.

The panel discussed potential strategies, legal issues and the pros and cons of going smoke-free.

Aside from the second hand smoke and fire risk, local property manager Linda Jones-Giltner says other costs add up.

"When somebody is a heavy smoker and they move out of our apartment communities we find that the walls have yellowed or browned due to the nicotine." Jones-Giltner recalled.

Property managers also have to clean air ducts and replace flooring - an expense that often falls back on tenants.

“It really is an important issue and I think it’s one we should address," Martin said.

If you're a landlord or tenant interested in learning about adopting a smoke free policy just click here.